Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #348: Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

This is definitely not a Chrestomanci book. The secret magical busybodies are called Magids here, their structure is very different, and the novel in which they operate has some just-barely-offstage sex that would never be allowed in young adult books like the Chrestomanci novels.

But the Magids of Deep Secret are all quite British magical types, bravely keeping the many worlds as safe and secure as possible against a variety of dangers, often in over their heads, and otherwise are very much Diana Wynne Jones characters. So if you grew up reading Chrestomanci books -- or any of Jones's novels -- you will find a lot familiar and welcoming in Deep Secret. And if you didn't grow up reading her books -- which is no crime; I didn't, for one -- this book, as her only fantasy novel officially published for adults, is a good place to begin.

Rupert Venables is the Magid at the center of this story: young but confident in his abilities, and the middle of three Magid sons in his family (which is amazingly rare). He's from our Earth, which is one of the worlds on the science side of the infinity symbol of infinite worlds that is the multiverse in this novel. Magids have particular responsibilities, but can live pretty much anywhere they want; Rupert's primary responsibility is the Koryfonic Empire, a dozen worlds that Magids avoid as much as possible.

Deep Secret is the story of two projects that hit Rupert at once. First, his mentor Stan dies -- tidily and at a preordained time, as is usual for Magids -- leaving Rupert with the job of finding his replacement. Luckily, Stan knew the end was coming, and assembled dossiers of the five top candidates for the job. The other job looks trickier: the paranoid and barely competent emperor of the Koryfonic Empire is assassinated very messily, taking out most of his court. One minor wizard, a secondary wife, and a very much in-over-his-head junior officer jumped up to General are the only ones left, and the General is left in charge of the Empire until the heir can be found. Unfortunately, the dead Emperor was really paranoid: it was a capital crime for his hidden heirs to discover their real parentage -- Rupert saw him have one son summarily executed as the novel opens -- and his files about those heirs are both encrypted and coded.

Rupert tries to ignore the Empire as much as he can, since he's sure they're Intended -- by the fuzzily defined Powers above the Magids -- to fall apart in a spectacular way, and he doesn't even want to watch that. But even the hunt for a new Magid to replace Stan runs into difficulty: all of his candidates are avoiding him, and most of them are overseas. So he does a magical working to draw them all to one place where he can meet them all: a hotel in the town of Wantchester, where some sort of literary gathering will be happening.

But that gathering is a science fiction convention, which is more than Rupert expected. And the hotel is on top of a powerful magical node, which someone is trying to tamper with for nefarious purposes. And all of his candidates are spectacularly impossible, especially one young lady who completely infuriates Rupert. And the Empire's collapse is taking place closer to Rupert than he expected, and dragging him in more deeply. And it all seems to be tied into one of the Deep Secrets of the Magids, of which Rupert knows only one small piece.

Deep Secret is not quite a fictionalization of British convention fandom, though I bet a lot of the minor characters are based on people or types well known to those folks. But it is both a deeply entertaining and humanist fantasy novel and a bemused mash note to the oddballs and quirky folks that love SFF books. You don't need to know anything -- about Jones's other books, about fandom, about Magids -- to read it, but if you enjoy fantasy, you'll find a lot to love here.

(And it's finally in paperback in the US, only seventeen years after it was originally published!)

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment